Tame Russian foxes

Fifty years ago, a fox farm in Russia started an experiment to breed tamer foxes that were easier to handle. The tamest foxes were selected for breeding stock and then only the tamest pups from each generation were selected to continue the experiment. After many generations the foxes not only became tamer but mutations started to occur. Many of these foxes now have drop ears and come in unusual colors, including what appears to be merle. Some of these foxes are now being offered to the general public.

http://sibfox.com/

I personally find this experiment fascinating. Especially how the selection for one trait (tameness) resulted in some unexpected traits (color and ears.)

As I read more here, I become more disturbed. Wild Russian foxes now distributed/sold through a Nevada 'broker' as a domesticated pet?

Sorry, this reads to me no better than a domesticated dog backyard breeder or puppy mill ad.

What is the purpose of this wild/domestic fox?

What an interesting find; thanks for sharing Robyn.
The little kid in me thinks it would be a fun and interesting pet. However, I did find the whole process of "ordering" the color and sex and then shipping it straight from Russia highly disturbing. At least they come already neutered, or we'd likely start seeing fox rescues crop up in a few generations!
Lord help us if Paris Hilton or similar celebrity takes a liking to a tame fox next…

I think this experiment was one of the pivotal ones that helped to develop the current understanding of how domestication of dogs occurred over time. I might be wrong but I think this was also tried with mink as well to make them more tame for the fur trade. But the resulting coloration changes made the fur unsuitable for what they wanted. Oh, darn.

@Nemo:

I think this experiment was one of the pivotal ones that helped to develop the current understanding of how domestication of dogs occurred over time.

Nemo is correct. It didn't start out with that purpose but it turned out to be very enlightening.

The project was called the Belyaev experiment.

This video explains the experiment.

This video shows a typical fox that was not from the lineage selected for tameness.

This video shows a fox that was bred generations of tame foxes.

Such an incredible difference in behavior. Amazing.

I find it really fascinating that they became so "dog like" with the tameness… different coat colors, wagging the tail in the video, and even barking!! That's really just incredible. What an interesting study.

I've always found the Belyaev study fascinating. Especially considering how many thousands of years have gone by since humans domesticated another animal. I think it'd be kind of fun to have a domestic fox; it'd be an interesting contrast to a basenji, (wonder if I could compete in agility with one?) but at that price, I don't think i'll be getting one anytime soon.

lol…Clarisse and I have been following this study for years and were waiting for the foxes to be sold to the public. This was our first choice prior to discovering the Basenji breed. We are still interested, but the $6000 price tag for a fox may be a little too excessive... [sigh].

I've always thought the Belyaev experiment was fascinating. Very interesting about the colours & ears.

I know someone who has two "pet" corsac foxes…

Not sure i agree with it as they are so far from domesticated, these two foxes were hand raised and are still nervous of people so not ideal as pets.

@snorky998:

As I read more here, I become more disturbed. Wild Russian foxes now distributed/sold through a Nevada 'broker' as a domesticated pet?

Sorry, this reads to me no better than a domesticated dog backyard breeder or puppy mill ad.

What is the purpose of this wild/domestic fox?

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I think the study that has been done is really interesting.. but why are they selling these tame foxes to the public? We can't even make sure all our domesticated dogs are taken care of.. In 10 years we have shelters full of foxes.. and of course we get fox breeders (and fox BYB).. and then we get fox shows.. And then we crop their tails.. breed them with short noses… etc etc.. sigh...

@Janneke:

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I think the study that has been done is really interesting.. but why are they selling these tame foxes to the public? We can't even make sure all our domesticated dogs are taken care of.. In 10 years we have shelters full of foxes.. and of course we get fox breeders (and fox BYB).. and then we get fox shows.. And then we crop their tails.. breed them with short noses… etc etc.. sigh...

The funding for the project has run out. Other fox farms (that breed foxes for the fur trade) have no use for these animals due to their unpredictable coat colors so most of the foxes in this project were destroyed. Some of the breeding stock was salvaged and the offspring will be sold to keep funding the project. At least, that is how I understand it anyway. (There has always been a demand for these foxes as pets but they have never been made available until now.)

ALL foxes that are sold will be spayed/neutered so no, they will not be useful to US fox breeders. (The US sellers do screen homes and use written contracts with a take back policy. It is on the website.)

In the US, foxes are considered exotic animals and there are many laws concerning the ownership of one. They are illegal in many states and other states allow them with special permits. Permits for breeding foxes are not easily obtained.

Foxes are fascinating but they can be complex to own. They have a very strong body odor that is very noticable indoors. They shed heavily in the summertime. Veterinary care is more complex than for a dog and vets must be liscensed to treat wildlife to care for them. They dig, fast and deep, and can go under a fence in a heartbeat. They climb over fences too. Housetraining can be a challenge.

Interesting animals but a lot of work.

@YodelDogs:

The funding for the project has run out. Other fox farms (that breed foxes for the fur trade) have no use for these animals due to their unpredictable coat colors so most of the foxes in this project were destroyed. Some of the breeding stock was salvaged and the offspring will be sold to keep funding the project. At least, that is how I understand it anyway. (There has always been a demand for these foxes as pets but they have never been made available until now.)

ALL foxes that are sold will be spayed/neutered so no, they will not be useful to US fox breeders. (The US sellers do screen homes and use written contracts with a take back policy. It is on the website.)

In the US, foxes are considered exotic animals and there are many laws concerning the ownership of one. They are illegal in many states and other states allow them with special permits. Permits for breeding foxes are not easily obtained.

Foxes are fascinating but they can be complex to own. They have a very strong body odor that is very noticable indoors. They shed heavily in the summertime. Veterinary care is more complex than for a dog and vets must be liscensed to treat wildlife to care for them. They dig, fast and deep, and can go under a fence in a heartbeat. They climb over fences too. Housetraining can be a challenge.

Interesting animals but a lot of work.

I don't like the idea of them selling the foxes to keep the project going.. sorry.. And lets hope that all the strong regulations in the US (and anywhere else) will stay.. I think it's good that the animals are neutered (although I don't agree with neutering animals that young..), but what if it becomes a good business? What if someone wants a fox, but can't pay 6000 dollar? There will probably be someone who wants to try to breed American foxes.. Illegal or not.. if it will sell.. Why not..

And you may know they are complex to keep.. but 'the public' doesnt.. And I don't read it on the site either.. http://sibfox.com/caring/ For me, this sounds easier than anything that I have ever heard about caring for a Basenji….. They also say: "Caring for foxes is similar to caring for dogs" and "Unlike most exotic animals, foxes are neither fragile nor needy. Genetically, they are very close to dogs, so if you have cared for a dog, you will have no difficulties caring for a fox. The basic rules of fox care are the following: 1.A balanced diet 2.Sufficient exercise (walk or play) 3.Sufficient rest 4.Some affection" (http://sibfox.com/faq/)

@Janneke:

I don't like the idea of them selling the foxes to keep the project going.. sorry.. And lets hope that all the strong regulations in the US (and anywhere else) will stay.. I think it's good that the animals are neutered (although I don't agree with neutering animals that young..), but what if it becomes a good business? What if someone wants a fox, but can't pay 6000 dollar? There will probably be someone who wants to try to breed American foxes.. Illegal or not.. if it will sell.. Why not..

Foxes are already sold in the US and have been for decades. A hand raised silver fox cub can be purchased for about half what one would pay for a Basenji puppy, $400-500. Despite being cheap and available to anyone with a permit, there has never been a huge demand for them as pets.

I agree this is an interesting topic and and interesting discussion. Thank you for bringing it here.

That said, I still think this study on "domestication" is more a study on selective breeding in general and had little to do with Canidae domestication. Evolutionary domestication theorists have never even agreed on whether humans domesticated dogs, or the dogs themselves took an evolutionary turn due to habitat/environmental issues amongst other things and became adept at insinuating themselves into hunter/gatherer sub cultures, thus domesticating themselves.

This experiment was, for lack of a better term, forced domestication resulting in a breed of foxes now ready for sale to anyone with a little money and wire cage in the back yard. In addition, the now domesticated fox has different social, emotional, and veterinarian needs due to this project. So now we have a wild-domesticated animal, dependent on humans for food, shelter, and love, and it lives in the backyard in a wire cage.

IMO this is the same as the neighbor with the dog chained in the backyard to the tree, given food and water and basic health care but no love.

Like I said, interesting study. But what's in store emotionally for these now pseudo dogs? They're just for sale. They deserve better than a twice a day feeding and a year round backyard cage. Where's the compassion, the warm bed, and the human contact they have now learned to expect and deserve?

Houston

wow, that is all I have to say ..wow..
We are about to have yet another thing on our hands people will try to dump..when things don't work out..
Cool project, but it is just that a project…IMO.
As a "moved here when I could-American" I think we do not need this..we have enough dogs and cats, livestock and other types of pets people dump, abuse or end up not wanting...
Let the wild animals be wild..and yes, I understand that dogs once were wild..but don't we have enough as it is?

I posted the original information on these foxes in hopes for a conversation about how selection for a single trait brought about unexpected changes in other traits.

Would anyone care to discuss this?

@YodelDogs:

I posted the original information on these foxes in hopes for a conversation about how selection for a single trait brought about unexpected changes in other traits.

Would anyone care to discuss this?

Sure. I was thinking about this in the car on my way home from work. We obviously select for certain traits as we breed dogs now, although towards a breed standard and hopefully the "whole package" perspective versus just one trait. But as we selected for improved temperment in basenjis along the way, were there certain other traits that changed along with it? Any major shifts in breed when temperments noticeably changed? I know the answer will probably be a muddy one as not everyone necessarily had the same perspective while breeding and temperment was not the only factor.

Okay, now that I have re-read some info I have on this. This is apparently an example of a promoter sequence change. Promoters are essentially regions of DNA which help turn on (or off) the expression of certain genes. Even small changes to the sequence of the promoters can have a large impact to the expression of certain genes. So in this case, as temperment was selected for, one or more promoter sequences which impacted those temperment-related genes (or more correctly genes which altered the brain development of the foxes to keep them in a more juvenile state) changed. One or more of these same promoters apparently controlled the expression of the genes related to other attributes such as coat color. So the genes weren't necessarily being changed themselves, just the regions of DNA which were turning them on or off were.

Hopefully that makes sense.

@Nemo:

Okay, now that I have re-read some info I have on this. This is apparently an example of a promoter sequence change. Promoters are essentially regions of DNA which help turn on (or off) the expression of certain genes. Even small changes to the sequence of the promoters can have a large impact to the expression of certain genes. So in this case, as temperment was selected for, one or more promoter sequences which impacted those temperment-related genes (or more correctly genes which altered the brain development of the foxes to keep them in a more juvenile state) changed. One or more of these same promoters apparently controlled the expression of the genes related to other attributes such as coat color. So the genes weren't necessarily being changed themselves, just the regions of DNA which were turning them on or off were.

Hopefully that makes sense.

You lost me at "okay"

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